Tuesday, 15 July 2014

london film comic con 2014

I've just got back from a busy weekend at London Film and Comic Con held at Earl's Court and organised by Showmasters.  What a weekend!  Was it worth it?  Read on to find out.  Here's an account of the three days.

Friday

I arrived on the Friday at around seven in the evening with five others in our group.  We were supposed to arrive much earlier but the coach trip that normally takes two and half hours took six hours due to an accident that caused major traffic.  Not a good start but can't be helped.

dominic keatingThe first thing we did after getting in to the main area of Earl's Court was head to the ticket sales.  We had booked all our tickets on line but due to a few late guest announcements we queued for forty minutes to grab a photo shoot with Star Trek's Dominic Keating.

We made the most of the preview day and used most of the evening looking around and making sure we knew the lay out and the updated schedule for the weekend.  This would turn out to be invaluable as the coming days we knew were going to be busy.  We also placed a few bids on the silent auction.  These included bids on a genuine spider prop from Arachnophobia, and a signed Howard Shore Lord of the Rings soundtrack.  We would have to wait until Sunday to find out if we had won.  Fingers crossed.

Knowing the next few days were going to be busier than the Friday we also took a look around the stalls. Some vendors hadn't arrived yet but the best stuff was just being put out.  The ideal time to grab a bargain or that one thing for your collection you've been looking for.  My first purchase was a pack of Lucasfilm playing cards and some sealed Jurassic Park Kenner toys.  I bought a Last Starfighter T-shirt from Last Exit To Nowhere who were selling them cheaper than on their website.  Next, we purchased a couple of programs of the event.  The program had a raffle number on the front and you had to check during the weekend to see if you had won.  I wasn't sure what the prizes were at this time.

That was it for Friday.  We were tired after a long journey but also excited for the days ahead.  We headed to one of the numerous pubs in the area to discuss our purchases and the coming days.

Saturday

We arrived at Earl's Court at around 8:15.  (We could have got there earlier but a full English breakfast in the cafe around the corner tempted us in.)  The queue for LFCC was huge!  We already had entry tickets so at least we didn't need to queue for those.  We joined the queue which was near the entrance.  Problem was the queue went all the way around the building and back again.  Oh well, the breakfast was worth it.

The queue was well managed by staff and except for one incident where two young lads decided to cut in much to the annoyance of everyone around us including me.  The general feel was one of excitement and anticipation.  Eventually the queue started moving as the doors opened at 9.00.  We eventually got in around 9:40.  My first photo shoot was 10:25 with David Hewlett from Stargate Atlantis.  Plenty of time.  It was already busier than the Friday and the queues for tickets and photo shoots were crazy.  Glad I got mine yesterday.

Another quick look around the vendors and Rach bought a t-shirt with Overlook Hotel on it from Last Exit To Nowhere.  I bought an original Close Encounters portfolio full of artwork and lobby cards.  Great find.

At around ten past ten I headed over to my first photo shoot with Rach, my wife.  We decided to do a double photo.  We got to Photo area A and waited to be called.  The member of staff was clear and managing the crowd in a professional and polite manner.  We were shipped through very quickly, placing our backpacks on the table once we were actually in the photo booth.  The staff were making sure they were safe and there when we returned.  The photo shoot went really well.  Except we forgot we were having a double shoot so we had to pose twice.  I thought it would be one photo taken and printed twice.   We got called back by the staff for our second one.  It was worth it as David made this pose.

david hewlett photo shoot

One down.  Now we had to head over to photo area D for John Hurt which was a bit further down.  Battling the increasing crowds we arrived and they were already calling ticket numbers in batches of fifty.  We were numbers 324 and 325 so had plenty of time.  This was the process for much of the day.  Jeremy Bulloch, Terry Farrell and Billy Dee Williams were all throughout the day.  Only slight thing we were confused by which we noticed from the day before was the photo shooting areas were all in order from A to D but E was placed at the other end of the court and F was next to D.  Don't know why but there must have been a good reason for it.

The big photo shoots would come tomorrow.  Stan Lee and Carrie Fisher.  None overlapped so we should be fine.

By about midday the crowds were still coming in and already the main area was super crowded.  Also the temperature was rising.  Good thing I came prepared with water, deodorant and a face cooling spray.  (Well it was Rach who prepared these things.)  I had a feeling this comic con was going to be the busiest yet and coming prepared with food and drink was essential especially as I'm diabetic.  I knew the food vendors would have huge queues so bananas and emergency sugar were a must.

We had a gap about midday for a few hours so we thought we would attempt the Sherlock talk which was located in the other building.  When we got outside we were surprised to see people without tickets still queueing to get in.  It was already like a tin of sardines in there so wasn't relishing the thought of what to expect when we got back.

Building two was much quieter though the queue for the Sherlock talk was already forming.  Once inside the main stage we were so excited!  We couldn't believe it!  They had chairs!  The sit down was bliss and to top it off we listened to a half hour talk by Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue and Steve Moffat.  Most of the talk consisted of them answering questions from the crowd.  There were no spoilers and their favourite words were "watch season four" which they joked should be on a T-Shirt.

After the talk we headed back into Earls Court One.  I was right the crowds were worse than ever and the heat hit us as we entered.  It took us ages to get to our next photo shoot.  People were squeezing past each other and stopping to check the timetables that had been put up around the place.  A good idea but I think putting some up in narrow walk ways was not such a good idea.

Rach headed for her Bernard Cribbins photo and I headed to photo shoot area D for Terry Farrell and then Billy Dee Williams.  There was a bit of confusion for the Terry Farrell shoot as we were told to queue up either side of the booth as people had arrived for different guest shoots.  The Showmasters member of staff was calling out instructions to the people in the middle but not to the rest of us who were told to queue either end.  It was only thanks to a kind person who said to him not to forget the rest of us did he come down and tell us what was happening.

london film comic con 2014

Billy Dee was next and that was delayed for half hour but it was the last one of the day so didn't matter.  That was it!  All done for the day.  The crowd was thinning so we took this opportunity to take some photos of cosplayers and head over to Corey Dee Williams who agreed to do an interview with me.  He was a great guy and interesting to listen to.  Recording on my Dictaphone for a future episode of Coffee With Kenobi, I was kneeling down and the interview went on for ten minutes.  I couldn't feel my legs at the end.

I met up with Chris who was in our group and said he was disappointed with the Doctor Who talk saying they paid twenty five pounds with the understanding there was going to be an exclusive announcement but the session more or less just consisted of questions from the crowd.

Saturday over we headed to the pub for a well earned pint and food.  Sunday was promising to be quieter but we had the big shoots to come.

Sunday

We learnt our lesson.  Get there early!  We were there at eight this time and we were only half way around the building.  My first photo shoot was Carrie Fisher at 10:40 and I had ticket number six so should be at the front.  I knew this was going to be a busy one so sat near photo shoot A and listened to a book talk that was taking place.  At 10:20 I headed over and waited.  Then we were hit with the news that she hasn't turned up!  We would all have to come back for the afternoon shoot which was at four.  This would be okay if I was straight in as I had Summer Glau at 4:20.  Other people were less fortunate as some were not there all day and it also clashed with the Stan Lee talk.  They were told to choose between the two.

With that I had a few hours spare before my Edward James Olmos shot at 12:30.  We decided to check out the other building.  Full of comic book artists and a retro gaming zone.  I wanted to get on the Atari Star Wars arcade but this seemed to be the most popular of all the arcade machines.

Heading back we stopped outside to shoot some more cosplayers.  The work the fans put in to some of
these costumes is incredible and I take my hat off to them.

Rachel had a walk around on her own and passed the Last Exit To Nowhere Stall who noticed her wearing the t-shirt she bought from the day before.  As a reward they gave her a load of goodies.  Thanks guys.

last exit to nowhere badges
Goodies given by Last Exit To NoWhere
Stan Lee photo was at twelve but my Edward James Olmos was at twelve thirty.  I headed to the Battlestar Galactic guest first as my Stan Lee number was 568 and the crowd was the biggest I've seen for any photo shoot ever.  Olmos photo went smooth except I didn't notice until after I wasn't looking at the camera.  Oh well, it still looks okay.  Back over to Stan Lee and they were calling numbers in batches of fifty.  I slowly moved to the front of the queue and waited for my number to be called.  The Showmasters guy who was running this shoot was incredible.  I've seen him before at Star Trek London when he did the Shatner's shoot and I can see why they put him on the big shoots.  He controlled the crowd with ease.  Eventually I was called and in the queue which snaked up and down at least seven times before getting to the entrance to the booth.  It was over in an instant but was worth it.

stan lee

At this point my legs were aching and were calling out for a rest.  We found a sneaky place upstairs where no one was going.  Chairs and a great view of the whole event.  There were staff toilets too which I will admit now we did use as the queues for the regulars ones were constant.  After freshening up with deodorant and a quick wash we headed down to get some autographs.

I promised a Paul McGann autograph for someone and this turned out to be the most difficult.  The young lad who was managing the queue was overwhelmed and kept putting his head in his hands and pulling faces.  I think he found it hard work.  He kept telling us to come back in ten minutes.  Three times he told us this and after the third one I did say you've told us to come back three times.  We eventually queued up but after
Paul McGann
about twenty minutes we were told that McGann is going for a break.  Why didn't they stop the queue before hand rather than let us wait for nothing?  Perhaps the guests don't give a warning when they want a break.  Eventually we got his autograph.  The others we got were David Hewlett who was a great guy to talk to and his stories about his movie, A Dogs Breakfast were so funny.  We also got Gary Kurtz who sneaked in later on, Terry Farrell, Robert Hayes who we had a friendly chat with and told us they were turning people away to enter the event late in the afternoon.  Last we had Michael Ensign who was in Ghostbusters and Star Trek The Next Generation.  He was so interesting and told us his make up for that episode took three and a half hours.  The virtual ticketing system for the big names like David Hewlett worked well but catching them when they weren't doing a photo shoot or a talk or just on a break was hit and miss.

I headed over to the silent auction which was still going on.  I was still winning my spider but not the other items.  I had put my maximum bid so that was that.  However, a nice surprise was waiting for me which was my number on my program had come up.  I had won a goody bag.  Full of some decent items too.  Check them out in the photo below.

contents of the goody bag
My two last photo shoots were upon me.  Carrie Fisher and Summer Glau.  The finale.  The potential clash.  Would I get both?  Heading to photo shoot A for Fisher I really hoped she would turn up on time.  The crowd was big.  Squeezing two sessions into one they extended the time by ten minutes.  I got in near the front due to a low number.  I was quietly optimistic I would get this done and head over for Summer Glau.  I forgot about the gold pass members who go in first and then I realised they were letting in people who had the Stan Lee shoot.  I didn't panic.  I stayed Billy-Dee cool and waited.  It was now four twenty and that was the time of my other shoot.  Eventually the queue started moving and I had my shoot with my wife, dog and Carrie Fisher.  I love them.  Great shoot.  Carrie kept saying "you don't need to rush" but the staff, understandably were eager to keep the line moving.


Once out I rushed over to Summer Glau at photo shoot C for my final shoot of the weekend.  I made it!  All of them done and no problems even if they did get shifted around.  Summer was so glamorous in her black dress.  So beautiful.

I came out of the booth and felt relieved but sad as the weekend was drawing to a close.  I headed over to the silent auction where I missed the bidding war that goes on at the end.  Don't understand the concept of a silent auction if you have a normal auction at the end.  I missed out on the spider by a few pounds.  I couldn't counter bid as I was in a photo shoot at the time.  Oh well.

We stayed until the announcement came out that they were closing.  We took one final look around the vendors and bought some more collectibles before heading out and yes you guessed it, to the pub for a cool and much needed pint.

London Film & Comic Con was busy, yes.  Over busy at times especially on the Saturday and the heat was not a fun part of the weekend  (I later hear that the air con was on 100% all day.)  But overall the weekend was really enjoyable.  If you come prepared then you can enjoy a large convention like this.  One tip, it does require a little preparation before hand, for instance, Rach did an at a glance timetable detailing times, photo areas and tickets numbers for the various photo shoots booked, which came in very handy.  If you leave everything until the day you will be frustrated and ultimately disappointed.  The staff were overall up to the task with a couple of rare exceptions.  Every time I asked a question they were able to answer.  Would I do it again?  Well Star Trek London is next so yes, yes I would.

Update: Showmasters have announced that they are considering future events will be prebooked tickets only on the Saturday.  On their Facebook page they wrote:

This year LFCC we estimated growth of 40% in one weekend, and thats a lot of people to service and look after and provide what they want and expect out of the weekend.
The crowds outside of the venue were very large this year and also there seemed to be many people that felt it was a good idea to wait outside the main doors for the standard entrance to be let in. Some of these people were there from 9.30am and this did not help when we needed to get people in lines ready for the opening. This did continue to create issues for our crew up to 11am, as some standard ticket holders would not move on down to where the Transformers vehicles were parked even when asked several times. This did not help us keep the entrance clear so it was not easy for people to see what doors to go to or where to line up.
After the doors are all open and everyone in the lines are in, it wasn't an issue but in the morning it would have been so much easier if some of these people did do as we asked and moved down the to the truck so we could have made our job a little easier. Next time we will have more crew to move people along and communicate this, we had around 25 out there in total and more will be needed next time.
In the future we feel it has come to a point where we are not going to sell on-the-day Walk-in tickets for the Saturday, as this day is now at a point where its going to be at capacity very early. All tickets structures will be looked at fully for next year's event as we are at a point where we are now getting more and more bigger guests offered to us and we will have this type of demand at this event every year. So the way forward will be to first look at pre-selling Saturday only to start with and to keep an eye on if we need to pre sell Sunday also.
We are also looking at exclusive ticket packages for bigger A-list guests, where this would be a dedicated ticket that would guarantee you get to meet this A-list guest and guarantee getting the photo op and signing all in the same ticket. These would be a stand alone ticket with all this included. General admission people would get to buy pre-sold photo ops and autographs at the show (subject to availability) but the people who bought the exclusive packages would get priority first. we want to have these big A list guest at our events, but we do not want people upset when they just turn up and cannot get everything they want, so we feel this maybe the way forward.

Good on you Showmasters for always looking to improve.

Rob Wainfur
@thebeardedtrio


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